September 3, 2013

Polar bear attack victim's thought: 'Dude, you're going to die'

Matt Dyer of Turner recalls the terrifying moments in July when a polar bear carried him away in its jaws.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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Matt Dyer still bears scars from being attacked by a polar bear at his campsite in Canada earlier this summer. He talked about the incident at his home in Turner last week.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador is where Matt Dyer’s group ventured. They used an electric fence, lower left in photo, at their campsite to ward off polar bears, but it did not prevent the attack on Dyer.

Courtesy photo

"I knew it was bad. I didn't want to call back," she said.

The phone rang. It was Isenberg.

"He said, 'A polar bear attacked Matt but he's OK,"' she recalled.

She grabbed the next flight to Montreal, arriving about the same time as her husband. He was breathing through a tube and his head was strapped to two yellow blocks to keep it immobile. He was covered in wounds.

The doctors started slowly bringing him out of his coma.

When he saw her, he burst into tears.

His wife said the bear smell stayed with him for days, filling the room even as he lay in the intensive care unit at Montreal General Hospital.

Dyer had suffered fractures in his first and second cervical vertebrae, but no damage to his spinal column. His jaw was broken and remains extremely painful, although he has graduated from eating only yogurt to other soft foods, such as mashed potatoes and tuna fish. He has dropped 30 pounds in the month since the attack.

It will take six to nine months for his jaw to heal completely. He has trouble moving the pinky finger on his right hand because of tendon damage where the bear's teeth penetrated. The cast was taken off his left hand, as were the metal pins to stabilize it, but it remains wrapped in gauze. The pinky and the thumb were broken.

His carotid artery was partially blocked from where the bear's tooth nicked it.

"A half inch either way, he would have bled out," Wells said.

As it is, several doctors were surprised he didn't suffer a stroke as a result of the arterial wound.

Dyer sports a Harry Potter-like scar on his forehead, but like many of his other cuts and bite marks, it has healed much in the past month.

For all that, he's upbeat and able to find the humor amidst the ordeal.

Investigators still don't know what went wrong.

The bear fence was too mangled to determine whether it had malfunctioned or the bear had just pushed through the pain, intent on its next meal.

Dyer has no plans to bring legal action. He does not blame the park or the Sierra Club.

He also does not blame the bear.

"I'm glad that bear got away and didn't get shot. I'd have felt terrible if that bear got killed because I was there," Dyer said. 

David Hench can be reached at 791-6327 or at:

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